Archive for February, 2012

Falling Stars: The Decline of All-Star Games

In 1933 Major League Baseball introduced sports fans to a radical new concept: the all-star game. Pitting the best players from each league against each other in a mid-season exhibition, the spectacle was instantly popular due to its high level of talent and competition. In future years, the NFL, NHL and NBA followed MLB’s lead.

The quality of all-star games has suffered, but ticket sales ensure the games go on.

Today’s all-star games are certainly not what they used to be. With players not wanting to risk injury and a general friendship amongst the players, the exhibitions feature little in the form of competition. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who won the 2012 NFL MVP award, questioned the level of play in this year’s Pro Bowl. Rodgers isn’t alone in his sentiments.

The NFL isn’t the only league struggling with its version of the all-star game. This year’s NBA All-Star Game was a snooze-fest and the atmosphere in Orlando was dead. People ripped the MLB All-Star Game for its shoddy selection process. Glance at the 12-9 score from this year’s NHL All-Star Game and look at the highlights and you can tell players aren’t really playing the game seriously. The games simply aren’t what they used to be, and the fans notice that.

Despite waning interest and declining play, the all-star games aren’t going away. Why? Because they help the leagues make money. To keep the games interesting changes have been made. In MLB, whatever league wins the All-Star Game earns home-field advantage in the World Series, which became significant last fall when the host St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the Fall Classic. Hockey has scrapped the East-West format and gone to a fantasy draft where players are selected like a middle school pickup game. Hey, at least the person picked last gets a new car.

An interesting new quirk employed by the NFL and NBA was to incorporate social media. For the first time ever, players in the Pro Bowl could tweet during the game. The experiment wasn’t without incident, however. The NBA employed a similar strategy, using a Facebook platform called Shaker that allowed viewers to interact during the skills competition. Tweeting during the dunk contest also went skyrocketing this year.

Whether any of these changes will be successful for the long-term is still up for debate. Don’t expect the all-star games to go away, though. There’s too much money at stake.

Photo (cc) by Rondo Estrello and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

One Man Show: Why Teams Bank Their Financial Futures on One Player

The Los Angeles Angels grabbed the baseball world’s attention this offseason when they signed superstars Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the same day. Pujols signed for 10 years and $254 million while Wilson’s deal was for five years and $77.5 million. In one day, the organization committed itself to spending $331.5 million on only two players.

Albert Pujols: A $254 million man

The price tags may seem outlandish, but surprisingly enough, the Angels might have made smart investments. In the 48 hours after the signings, the team sold more than 1,000 new season-ticket packages and local sports retailers were unloading merchandise to eager fans. For a franchise that had been losing revenue the past two seasons due to dwindling fan interest, the Pujols and Wilson signings could essentially pay for themselves.

The Angels aren’t the only team to see a spike in revenue after a big signing. The Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal this offseason, and consequently ticket sales jumped 352 percent.

Revenue is an interesting part of the puzzle in the Peyton Manning saga with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning signed a new deal with Indy last year, which includes a $28 million bonus on March 8. Manning, however, missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, and his long-term future is in question.

The talk this winter has been what the Colts will do with their QB. Do they pay Manning his $28 million even though he might never play again? Or do they cut or trade him so they don’t have to pay?

Undoubtedly the team must consider the repercussions if they were to let the superstar go. Interestingly enough, Colts fans face a March 1 deadline for renewing season tickets. Thus far it appears the uncertainty hasn’t impacted fans, as the team has stated sales are where they normally are. This could be due to the fact the Colts hold the first pick in April’s NFL Draft and will likely take highly touted QB Andrew Luck.

In the modern sports lexicon it has become apparent having big name players on your team is the way to go in order to make money. Keep that in mind the next time you see a huge contract. In sports, big deals are investments.

Photo (cc) by SD Dirk and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Show, Don’t Tell: The Advantages of Visual Journalism

Accomplished photojournalist Mary Knox Merrill was kind enough to come to our class Thursday to discuss visual journalism. Merrill is a staff photographer for Northeastern and spent five years at The Christian Science Monitor.

Mary Knox Merrill talks about visual journalism

I could tell immediately Merrill had a passion for visual storytelling. She mentioned her background of studying photography in college, when she admitted to “falling in love with the dark room.” She also called photojournalism a “lifelong process,” and sentiments like this demonstrate she is someone who truly enjoys her work.

I think the major advantage of visual journalism is it goes beyond words on a page, helping the audience get a clearer understanding of the story. A perfect example of this is the story of the mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. Reading the story in print may paint a certain picture for the audience, but Merrill’s use of photo, video and audio voiceover does what text cannot. The opening video of the mountain gorilla eating in the jungle immediately makes the story real to the audience. Something about seeing a 500-pound animal from 10 feet away makes the story resonate.

Another great part about visual journalism is it allows the subject to tell the story rather than the journalist. Consider Merrill’s presentation of the Cyclocross Grand Prix of Gloucester. Merrill is not present at all in the video, yet by using footage from the race, photos of athletes in action and interviews with participants, the audience can see what the event is all about and understand what draws hundreds to the race. In only two minutes and 21 seconds, Merrill has told a compelling story, and she didn’t have to write or say anything. In this way visual journalism takes the middle man — the journalist — out of the equation and takes the audience directly to the story and the subjects.

The biggest challenge of visual journalism isn’t doing it, it’s doing it well. Taking pictures, shooting video and collecting audio is nice, but the editing process is perhaps more important than it is for written work. Merrill does a great job of editing in her story about the rescue Labradoodle who hopes to be adopted by President Obama. Merrill does a great job in detail with this piece. Notice at the 30 second mark when she mentions the dog’s hypoallergenic coat that she uses a close-up photo of the Labradoodle’s fur to illustrate the point. Also at the four-minute mark, Merrill used the b roll of the dog licking the camera to go along with the voiceover of the owner saying what a joy the dog is. That is attention to detail, and shows great editing skills, the most important factor for good visual storytelling.

Lin a New York Minute: Jeremy Lin’s Impact on the Knicks, NBA and the World

The incredible rise of Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American NBA player for the Knicks who has caught the NBA by storm, is one of the more remarkable sports stories of the last 10 years. A Harvard graduate who went undrafted and largely unnoticed in his first year has suddenly been unstoppable, scoring 20 points or more in his last six games. People are already comparing Lin to Tim Tebow, another athlete with an unorthodox story who rose to instant fame and success.

A rare moment in which the camera isn't on Jeremy Lin.

The undeniable truth regarding Lin’s popularity is his race. Perceptions and stereotypes indicate Asian-Americans do not typically play basketball. Yet much of the world’s population is made up of people with Asian descendants or who would identify themselves as having Asian origins. For these people, seeing someone they can identify with have success is exciting and captivates their attention.

In the business world attention inevitably leads to money, and the Knicks and the NBA have certainly cashed in recently. Sports Biz reporter Darren Rovell has followed this story for the past two weeks and tweeted some interesting facts. Web traffic to the Knicks’ website has gone up 550 percent in the past week, while video highlight views are up 1,205 percent. Lin Fathead posters are now selling more than those of NFL stars Tom Brady, Peyton and Eli Manning and Tebow. After Lin hit the game-winning shot against the Raptors on Tuesday, merchandise sales skyrocketed overnight by as much as 500 percent. Unsurprisingly, much of the demand for Lin has come overseas.

For a league that is still overcoming the negative effects of a lockout, the emergence of Lin has been a blessing. Where the league goes from here is significant. The NBA has an opportunity to cash in a big way with Lin fans, but as the Washington Post points out, the league has to walk a thin line. The NBA has been notorious for battling with racial stereotypes throughout its history. With Lin, the league has to market the player without relying solely on his race as a point of interest. It’s the modern version of “Fernandomania.”

What happens from here will be the most intriguing. How does the NBA quell the elephant in the room with the race issue? What happens to the international growth of the sport? And how long will Lin remain popular if his play begins to diminish?

Photo (cc) by nikk_la and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Foray Into Flickr: Shooting a Women’s Hockey Game

For my Flickr assignment I chose to shoot the Northeastern vs. Maine women’s hockey game on Saturday at Matthews Arena. I’m a regular at Matthews for men’s hockey and basketball, but rarely do I see the women play. Since they’re having a great season and I like to support my Huskies teams I figured this would be a good choice.

Click on the photo to see my Flickr set

Since the arena was virtually empty except for friends and family of the players, I tried to move about the arena and get as many interesting angles as I could. I went up to the glass behind the net, into the stands on the lower level, in the press box from center ice and to the balcony from above. I’m certainly no pro with a camera, but I thought I got some pretty interesting shots, though I was unable to catch any of the goals.

I must say I have a new respect for sports photography. Catching a play in action, and doing so at the right moment from the right angle without any blur, is not easy. I took close to 100 photos during the game, and I’d estimate 25-30 were action shots with too much blur.

Check out my work in Flickr by clicking on the photo above, or just click here.

Beanpot Blues: As Storify Shows, Huskies Humbled By BC

For my Storify assignment I decided to recap Northeastern’s embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Boston College in the Beanpot Monday night. For me Monday night was my last Beanpot as an undergrad, and needless to say it did not go as well as I would have hoped.

I thought highlighting the Beanpot would be a good choice because there is a beginning, middle and end to my story. Every year so much is written about the Huskies’ struggle in the tournament, which they have not won since 1988. I was able to find a number of articles with the annual “could this be the year?” angle. Similarly, I happened to see a lot of tweets from people I knew hoping NU could finally pull off a win. This set the stage for the game from the Northeastern point of view.

The game itself was fairly competitive for the first 20 minutes, with BC taking a 2-1 lead. I threw some photos from my colleagues at the Huntington News in to give some context of the action. Unfortunately, NESN is very tight with video rights of the tournament, so I was unable to find any videos of the game, which would have been ideal.

The game got out of control in the second and third period, ultimately resulting in a 7-1 win for the Eagles. So many people from the Northeastern student section left in disgust I knew there would be reaction on Twitter. I found numerous tweets that showcased the level of frustration from Husky fans who were once again let down. This, mixed in with some mocking reactions from BC fans, brought a nice closure to the story I thought.

It would have been nice to find some video of the action to include if it were available. That would have made my Storify better, but I thought mine had a nice narrative from start to finish, recapping from NU fans’ point of view.

Robbing the Cradle: The Big, Bad Business of College Recruiting

I was assigned by the Boston Globe to cover a National Signing Day ceremony for four local high school athletes choosing their college destinations. Wednesday was the first day in which prospective college football players could sign a National Letter of Intent to play for a particular school. In recent years the date has become one college football fans circle on their calendars to see how their school fared in signing the best recruits.

Signing day has become an event upon itself

College football is, of course, big business. Kristi Dosh, who started businessofcollegesports.com, reveals just how big this business is. In December she posted a list of the top 50 most profitable college football and basketball programs in 2010-11. The University of Texas, which finished 5-7 and did not qualify for a bowl game, made over $71 million in profit. Imagine what the Longhorns could have pulled in had they won nine or 10 games?

With so much money at stake the race to woo the best high school players in the country has taken an ugly turn. Urban Meyer, the new head coach at Ohio State, was accused by other coaches of illegal recruiting practices that violate NCAA law. Meyer is one of many college coaches who hounds high school athletes in hopes of convincing the 17 or 18-year-old that their school is the best. In-home visits, emails, phone calls, text messages and other gestures are all part of the game.

The University of Notre Dame spent over $2 million on recruiting expenses in 2010-11, $1 million of which went to football alone. With average football recruiting classes numbering between 20 and 30 athletes, that breaks down to $33,000 to $50,000 devoted to each athlete who signs.

Sadly, what this has created is a high-stakes poker game with high school athletes as the chips in the middle of the table. It’s not so much helping the student find the best school for him, it is about finding the athlete who will help the school make money.

As I spoke with the athletes after they signed their letters of intent, one called the recruiting process “an awful thing to go through” that puts “pressure, not only on the player but the family.” It’s sad that what should be an exciting achievement in a young person’s life has to come with such a catch-22, but as they say, “that’s business.”